Follow her on Facebook: Carole Nelson Douglas
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
An Interview with Carole Nelson Douglas -- Part II
EV: Your most recent Midnight Louie mystery is Cat in an Alien X-Ray. What made you decide to write a mystery series with a cat as a private investigator?
CND: I’d seen an intriguing classified ad seeking a home for Midnight Louie, a cat “as at home on your favorite couch as in your neighbor’s garbage can.” He was available to the right home for one dollar. The ad was inordinately long and probably cost $30. Curious, I wrote a newspaper feature about it. Louie was an amazing but too successful survivor, dining on koi at a fancy Palo Alto motel. He was headed for death at the animal pound when a visiting Minnesota woman flew him home. Apartment living didn’t work, and through my article he found a home on a farm.
I made a crucial decision to write the feature from his point of view. Years later, I thought it’d be fun to use him as an anonymous part-time narrator in a quartet of romances set in Las Vegas. I provided several minor characters that narrator could have been…a rhyming bookie among them. At the very last sentence of the fourth book we learn “the character about town” is the black cat that’s been spotted here and there throughout the series.
My quartet was “too mainstream, sophisticated, and upmarket” for what the romance readers would accept, the editor said, so she butchered the books with unilateral cuts and published them as poorly as possible to disappear without a trace. Two women who were key power buyers in the romance field and bookstore chains at the time told me they were not happy about that. Neither was I. Nor Louie. None of we humans could do anything about it, but a twenty-pound black alley cat is not going to take the insult lying down. So I moved Louie to a mystery series and he’s been happily narrating part-time and helping solve cases ever since.
EV: In your paranormal series, your investigator, Delilah Street, solves cases involving werewolves, zombies, and vampires. Is it hard to work on such different series, and do you work on more than one at the same time, or just address one for awhile, and then another?
CND: I’d originally written high fantasy, which is set in invented worlds and which I can best describe as like The Lord of the Rings, without the epic war. There is action and conflict, but on a more personal level. So inventing new worlds, or a remade world like Delilah’s post-supernatural apocalypse Vegas, isn’t a stretch. I wanted to take Louie’s Las Vegas, which one reviewer already called “slightly surreal” because of Louie and his animal underworld, to the far-flung limits of paranormal urban fantasy. One editor described the Delilah Street series as “noir urban fantasy,” and it does include classic crime elements.
I usually alternate writing books in series, so it’s fun to catch up in a different world. All the voices and characters reside in my mind, ready to spring into action when called. Sometimes I’ve crossed their paths in shorter fiction. I’ve put Louie in Sherlock Holmes’ and Delilah Street’s world. Louie is totally travelable and, because cats have multiple lives, can have “Past Life Adventures.” He has a story set in Ancient Egypt (Fruit of the Tomb) and visits Delilah’s world in “Butterfly Kiss.” Once Upon a Midnight Noir is an anthology of “Bogeyman,” a Delilah Street solo story, “Butterfly Kiss,” and Louie’s completion of an Edgar Allan Poe fragment set in 1794 “Norland.”
EV: Despite the fact that Irene is historical, Temple is contemporary, and Delilah is in the future, are there common traits shared by all three of your series protagonists? If they could time travel, do your think they would be friends?
CND: Happily, the order in which you mention the three protagonists is the order in which I created them. I'm a character-driven writer, so all three women embody my thesis that strong women can be feminine,and in different ways. They would make a heck of a threesome.! Don't give me ideas for superheroine movie!
Adler, an operatic performer, loves the psychological strength of "making an entrance." Although Conan Doyle described her as beautiful, during an investigation she takes glee in disguising herself as old or ugly. Once she lost her singing career because of the actions of others, she becomes the director of her investigations, assembling her cast of helpers and plotting the ways to discover clues and unveil perpetrators. She has been wounded by losing the ability to practice her art, and distracts herself with crime-solving. Her swashbuckling sense of drama can blind her sometimes to the most obvious danger. She smokes tiny cigars and carries a "wicked" little pistol, and once fought a sword duel in the persona of Sarah Bernhardt's son (a pretty fellow of nineteen at the time). She and two other women went on the trail of Jack the Ripper after Whitechapel, and caught him.
Irene's historical ventures were barely launched when I noticed the breakthrough in women PIs in mystery fiction was creating a whole slew of female loners with no family who walked the mean streets and had unprotected one-night stands. Disgruntled male mystery writers called them "men in drag." AIDS was a terrifying global threat on the cusp of the nineties. So I decided to create a petite feminine woman amateur sleuth with a lot of savvy, heart, and soul, Temple Barr. Since she had a roommate who wrote some of his own chapters--a hard-boiled feline PI, Midnight Louie, from a recent quartet of romances--the series is also a homage and critique of the private eye stereotype. The series premise was "sexual responsibility in the age of AIDS." For people and cats. That's why part of Temple's romantic triangle is an ex-priest trying to adjust to the modern sexual world. Imagine a celibate man who wants to do the right thing as a co-protagonist! Readers loved Matt and his journey. Temple is one of the few non-PI heroines to get beaten up by thugs. Dealing with it mirrored what can happen to any woman. I call the ambiance "cozy-noir." Public Relations freelancer Temple is a chronic fixer, of events, including murder, and of people.
I'd been pushed out of a successful high fantasy series early in my career.When urban fantasy became popular in the mid-2000s, "kick-ass" heroines were legion. Again, I found many of them a misleading pattern for strong women. Delilah, an unadopted orphan, has a rougher background (Irene made her way out of poverty, though). She's learned to defend herself, mostly by intelligence. She will survive in an action melee, but she also has a couple of slightly supernatural helpers, a wolfhound-wolf cross rescue dog, Quicksilver, and an unwanted attachment, a sterling silver familiar that morphs from jewelry into weapons on her body. The Delilah Street series deals with a futureVegas run by werewolf mobsters, with a trade in illegal aliens, a drug smuggling industry, and high-tech advances that turn people into zombies. Themes are personal freedom, women's self-esteem issues and sexuality. It also satirizes today's love affair with gruesome forensics and celebrities. It's a darker world and storyline, but lightened by black humor.
The newspaper reporter in me propels all three women's need to fight social ills and see justice done and wrongs out in the open. The would-be costume designer in me comes out in Irene's gowns and Temple's and Delilah's shared love of vintage clothes. If there's one word that's shown up most in books reviews across all my genres, it's "witty." I love writing mystery and adventure and romance, and even slide into a bit of horror at times. Doyle, Poe, Dumas, Wilde, Heyer, Sayers, Du Maurier, Tolkien, Norton, those are the men and women writers I loved early on and shades of them show up in my writing--and all my heroines--to this day.
EV: What is the most useful writing advice you ever received?
CND: I don’t remember any one thing, but here’s the best advice I can give. Jimmy Cricket said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” I say, Let your subconscious be your guide. I’ve often noted some detail or element that pops up in the writing and thought, What? or, That’s lame, I’ll fix that in the edit. By the time I move along a bit more, I realize why my subconscious threw that into the mix. It’s often amazingly crucial.
EV: Thanks again for being my guest. I enjoyed learning about your process. And, being an addict of Victorian Era mysteries, I'm looking forward to more adventures of the remarkable Irene Adler.
Follow her on Facebook: Carole Nelson Douglas
Her books (all three series) are available at: